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A City Rose on the Marshes. Will the Bay Take it Back?

Rebecca Nelson
Dec 19 2018

One of the newest communities on San Francisco Bay is preparing for the water around it to rise as the world warms. But what preparation is enough? And for whom?

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Water World The lagoons and civic center of Foster City seen from the air in 2007. Ken Sheppardson via Flickr
 

By Rebecca Nelson

An eight-mile long levee 13 feet high stands between homes in Foster City and San Francisco Bay. Bob Cushman has lived there for twenty years, a little less than half the time the city has existed. In the 1960s, Foster City was created on the wetlands just south of the San Mateo bridge. This planned community, which now has a population of nearly 35,000, became incorporated in 1971. Cushman’s home on Greenwich Lane is close to one of the city’s many lagoons.

The melting of distant glaciers caused by climate change could well have a serious impact on Foster City as sea levels rise. Flood maps produced by Our Coast Our Future, a collaborative group that uses information from the U.S. Geological Survey, show that rising water could eventually inundate most of Foster City. But how soon? And what can be done?

Flood maps show that without improvements to the levee, rising waters could inundate most of Foster City.

Potential for Big Flood Insurance Bills Got Residents’ Attention

The Federal Emergency Management Agency changed its flood maps in 2014, Foster City’s public works director, Norm Dorais, said in a recent interview. The changes required an increase in the height of the 13-foot riprap levee, an embankment built around loose stone or concrete fragments. Unless this was done, FEMA would place Foster City in a flood zone, mandating that all homeowners at risk would have to take out expensive flood insurance.

Had that happened, Dorais said, the average homeowner with a federally insured loan would have to pay a minimum of $2,000 to $3,000 annually for flood insurance. More than 80 percent of the city’s residents voted last summer for a $90 million bond to raise the levee by eight feet.

Vulnerabilities Found in its Armor, Foster City Girds for Rising Seas

Foster City rose in the 1960s on a marshy island that had earlier been reclaimed from San Francisco Bay. To the developer, T. Jack Foster Jr., proximity to water was central to its marketing allure, as neighborhoods rose with names like “Dolphin Bay,” “Treasure Isle,” and “Sea Colony,” among others, and the island was laced with canals for dockside access.

To hold the tides back, the island is fringed with defenses, from 13 foot high levees on the bay side, to hardened embankments along the canals. The Federal Emergency Management Administration, FEMA, recently found those defenses wanting, ordering Foster City to bolster them or face designation as a flood-prone area – an expensive proposition for homeowners.

Relief map showing Foster City and bay shoreline of San Mateo County

Sources: Adapting to Rising Tides program, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; San Mateo County; San Francisco Estuary Institute; Natural Earth Data; ESRI Earth Imagery; NASA Elevation Data

Geoff McGhee/Bill Lane Center for the American West

“I think the levee was needed,” Cushman said, “We do believe that sea rise is a problem.” The city will use property taxes to pay off the bond over 30 years. According to the city, this will cost homeowners approximately $40 a year per $100,000 of assessed property value. “We’re trying to be proactive,” Dorais said.

Raising Levees Postpones Disaster

The levee is currently 13 feet above sea level, and Foster City plans to raise its height by eight feet in order to meet both FEMA’s flood requirements and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s even more stringent requirements.

Our Coast Our Future summarizes predictions from a variety of climate models, showing that 2050 sea level rise projections range up to two feet and 2100 projections anticipate increases up to almost nine and a half feet. Foster City used San Francisco’s more modest 2014 sea level rise guidance for their projections of one and a quarter feet of sea level rise by 2050, and a little under four feet of rise by 2100.

Current Levees Could Fail When the Water Rises 4.3 Feet

Whether borne by flood, sea level rise, or some combination of the two, models show that Foster City’s current storm protection should keep it dry until the water level rises 52 inches above the current mean water line. Future danger could come from calm waters under a climate change scenario where sea levels rise four feet. It could also come from a 100-year storm surge rising from seas just one foot higher than they are today.

Predictions like these, coupled with FEMA’s decision to designate much of Foster City a flood-prone area if its levee were not raised, prodded city residents to support a bond to raise the levees as much as eight feet.

The Levee Will Eventually Protect a City Below Sea Level

While Foster City is nominally at sea level under current conditions, analysts point out that even just one foot of sea level rise would leave much of the city below sea level. In such a scenario, the levee would operate as a dyke, and any potential leaks could risk causing a flood.

Bay Shoreline Flood Explorer – Click to Open in New Window

Sources: Adapting to Rising Tides program, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; San Francisco Estuary Institute;

Foster City’s watery heritage is its pride. In his 2012 memoir, T. Jack Foster Jr., one of the city’s founders, wrote, “One of our goals for Foster City was to create a ‘sense of place.’ This is a feeling that, wherever you in Foster City, you know you are in Foster City.” He had hoped that the city’s lagoons would contribute to this sense of place. Scenic trails lead along the lagoons, the levee and through protected marshes, providing an idyllic space for birdwatching, biking, and hiking.

Scenic trails lead along the lagoons, the levee and through protected marshes, providing an idyllic space for birdwatching, biking, and hiking.

Several residents at a local Starbucks described Foster City as culturally diverse. About 45 percent of the population identifies as Asian. Families comprise about 70 percent of households. The population grew from around 9,000 in 1970 to nearly four times that number today, federal census data shows. This data puts the median household income at $129,000, well above the median in the surrounding San Mateo County.

“How concerned am I about climate change as it affects Foster City?…Practically not at all,” said Bob Berger, who has lived there for about five years. Although Berger thought that “the levee spend may be warranted,” he criticized, “the vote on the levee improvements, in my opinion was a combination of fear mongering and insurance blackmail with few real facts to support it.”

In a KQED report last June, T. Jack Foster Jr. agreed with Berger. Foster opposed the levee improvements, saying he wouldn’t have done anything different in developing Foster City and that the seas were not rising quickly.

Pleasure Island Windsurfers competed in the lagoon off of Foster City’s Leo J. Ryan Park in the summer of 2010. Sreekanth Jandhyala via Flickr
 

In 1958, a Developer’s Vision Turned a Marshy Island into a City

As Foster wrote in his memoir, a farmer named Frank Brewer built the levee in 1900 to create a meadow for grazing cattle and cultivating hay. The Fosters, an Oklahoma real estate family, bought Brewer Island in 1958 to create their planned community. Around the island they deposited 18 million cubic yards of compacted sand, despite the Sierra Club’s opposition. Foster’s confidence in his company’s creation has persisted from the time of the city’s original construction though today. He was proud that the 1989 earthquake left the city largely unscathed.

The levee has been adjusted over time to prevent the bay from reclaiming the town. Discussions of the city’s future are intertwined with that of the levee.

“Foster City all used to be tidal wetlands a hundred years ago,” explained Christina Toms, a senior environmental specialist at the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board. The levee has been adjusted over time to prevent the bay from reclaiming the town. Discussions of the city’s future are intertwined with that of the levee.

With a Higher Levee Three Years Away, Will It Be Effective for the Decades to Come?

The levee as it appears now, south of the San Mateo Bridge.

The levee as it appears now, south of the San Mateo Bridge.   Rebecca Nelson
 

According to Dorais, the public works director, Foster City plans to start the levee improvements in summer of 2019 and hopes to finish by December 2021. Dorais thinks “We will meet 2100 numbers [for sea level rise] from a still water point of view, but it’s the wave run-up…that we would need to deal with.” He hopes that by 2050, technological innovations will offer more advanced protections.

Foster City will raise its levee using sheet pile walls, a type of retaining wall that is commonly used for flood protection. Christina Toms explained that the geophysical properties of bay mud mean “There’s a physical limit to how tall the sheet walls can be.” She added that the city engineers determined that increasing the levee’s height with sheet piles will only provide protection against the sea level rise of one and a quarter feet projected by 2050. She said it won’t stave off the water if it rises almost four feet by 2100. As a possible solution, Toms advised Foster City to enhance beaches to improve flood protection.

Renderings of the Foster City shoreline before and after levee raising.

Renderings of how a raised levee would appear at ground level, distributed in 2016 as part of the city’s pitch for the improvement project. The “2050” scenario reflects the eight-foot height increase that is currently underway. There are no current plans to raise it to the “2100” height.   Schaaf & Wheeler, with assistance from BFS Landscape Architects
 

Levee or No, Floodwater Can Also Come from Inland, Underground… Or Nearby Towns

The levee expansion is designed to cope with rising waters on the city’s bay front. But experts question how well it will deal with all the consequences of rising seas. Sloughs border Foster City’s inland side near Highway 101. Cushman, the Foster City resident, remarked, “Our potential threat from flooding is probably biggest from the 101 side. That would be a bigger threat than water overtopping the levee.” But Dorais is not worried. “As the rises come in the next twenty to forty years, those marsh areas will continue to grow and keep up.”

Expanding the levee does not deal with another danger: increasing groundwater heights. “This wall is not going to solve the issue of the groundwater,” said Rohin Saleh, the Alameda County Flood Control watershed planning manager. Saleh’s colleague, Hank Ackerman, Alameda Flood Control’s principal civil engineer, added, “You could have utilities, foundations to buildings, that become vulnerable because of the groundwater saturation. It is a very complex problem. I think Foster City jumped the gun.”

Morning light over downtown Foster City.

Morning light over downtown Foster City. Solyanka via Flickr
 

And these engineers and other experts made the point that, when it comes to rising water, Foster City is not alone. The bay’s hydrology crosses jurisdictional boundaries. A solution that works for one city may hurt another, underscoring the need for coordinated planning.

“Collaboration is really important,” said Ian Avery Bick, a Stanford researcher who is developing a risk analysis tool to help stakeholders plan for rising seas. But Bick and other experts anticipate roadblocks. “There seems to be more animosity than collaboration across the counties and the cities,” Bick reflected, “…the first quarter, we didn’t even include Foster City in our analysis because we were worried about the political consequences...”

Max Evans, a Stanford Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate student, added, “When Foster City built up the levee…where does the water go? It potentially affects other communities more.” Evans noted that Foster City’s neighbor Redwood City is vulnerable to rising seas.

Will a Bigger Levee Hurt Foster City’s Neighbors?

“When Foster City built up the levee…where does the water go? It potentially affects other communities more.”

The engineers, Ackerman and Saleh, are also concerned about how the levee may affect other towns. Following an interview, Saleh expanded his thoughts in an e-mail: “By building a flood wall around Foster City, they are also going to roughly push around 20,000 acre-feet of water during a one-hundred-year event to somewhere else in the Bay…Part of this water may be pushed toward our direction and some may go south.

“The bottom line is nobody agreed to this,” Saleh continued. “And whether it was okay with us to receive any amount of flood water from another city.” Ackerman added, “…that water’s got to go somewhere…it will impact everyone else.” But in Foster City, Norm Dorais asserted, “We understand that there are some concerns about displacement. But based on how our design is, we don’t feel that we would be contributing to any additional rise anywhere else.”

Foster City can afford expensive projects. Not every jurisdiction can. As Ackerman said, “Sea level rise endangers poorer communities that can’t afford walls.” Christina Toms agreed. “Environmental justice isn’t always part of the sea level rise and adaptation dialogue, but it really should be.” “Anyone who’s building levees right now... is possibly wasting their money,” said Ackerman, “We need to spend more time and effort looking at this as a holistic problem.”

But waiting for cooperation can waste valuable time. “Climate change is not going to wait for a permit,” said Len Materman, the Executive Director of the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (SFCJPA). This multi-jurisdictional agency unifies two counties and three cities, encompassing the San Francisquito Creek’s watershed. It is nearing completion of a major flood-control construction project to contain the creek and the ocean.

“Don’t wait for the perfect solution, and don’t assume the federal government is going to solve the problem...” Materman advised. His agency’s successes, he said, show that planning as a watershed enables neighboring municipalities to collaborate. “It [the creek] is really what we have in common between these three cities,” he added. “They all touch it, they all depend on it, and they all suffer from it.”

That said, “unless you have a lead agency that is going to manage the project, it is very difficult to coordinate between jurisdictions,” he concluded.

Averting a “Slow-Moving Catastrophe”

San Mateo County is in the process of creating an agency to address regional sea level rise. At its November 30th meeting, the San Mateo Countywide Water Coordination Committee met to discuss how to establish it. This makes Alice Kaufman, the legislative advocacy director for the Committee for Green Foothills, optimistic. “We do hope that we can…come together and decide on a path forward on how to deal with the issue of sea-level rise” she said. “This is a problem that is sort of a slow-moving catastrophe.”

Foster City’s public works director, Dorais, believes the city’s levee project could provide an example for neighboring cities. “Overall, our experiences might help folks out…If the regional effort is for meeting 2100 sea level rise, then we will certainly contribute,” Dorais said, “But if it’s only to meet 2050, we will not contribute any financial aid…It would not make sense for us to contribute on a regional level for something we’re already doing.”

Condominiums under construction in the fall of 2018.

Condominiums under construction in the fall of 2018. Rebecca Nelson
 

As the seas slowly rise, Foster City continues to develop. Its population grew by at least 3,800 people in the last seven years, and new condominiums are under construction right now, across from the town library.

On Foster City’s bay front, families often walk along the levee with their children. “I really like living in Foster City, as I think everyone who does live here feels pretty much the same way,” said Bob Berger. He added windsurfing and boating are part of the city’s culture. The homes evoke a sense of permanence, making it hard to imagine that once there was only marsh here.

Someday, the water could return. “Projections for sea level rise have doubled to nine feet by the end of the century,” Ackerman warned, “Nobody can build their way out of that.” 

 

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Responding to A City Rose on the Marshes. Will the Bay Take it Back?

The cities located along the shores of the Delta, and the North Bay, the Central Bay, and the South Bay share one thing in common: A sea level rise will effect them all. If Foster City's levee system is inadequate for sea level rise predictions, then it begs the question which other city along the shores of SF Bay estuary is adequately prepared?

8/25/2020, 12:15pm

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Congress Seeks Answers on Alaskan Mine Project. Democrats in the House of Representatives have launched an investigation into the Pebble Mine project, seeking to determine whether the developers misrepresented its plans to Alaskan Natives and the government. House leaders raised concerns that the developers privately planned a much larger and longer project while downplaying the mine to the public. If completed, Pebble Mine would be one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: November 17, 2020

Hoping to Lock In Drilling Rights on Alaska’s Pristine Coastal Plain, the outgoing Trump administration is asking oil and gas firms to select the places they hope to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The idea is to ensure a lease sale in the wilderness area of nearly 1.6 million acres can occur before the inauguration of a longtime opponent, President-Elect Joe Biden. Washington Post

Federal Judge Says Interior Department Ignored Climate Concerns in granting new Wyoming oil and gas leases. The judge blocked the move and called on federal regulators to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and conduct its environmental analysis and consider possible negative effects on the climate, before drilling on 282 lease parcels on 300,000 acres of federal land could be occur. Casper Star-Tribune

Canadian Environmental Groups Working With Shell Canada and Others to create a national carbon-offset system. The program is something that the government announced last year but has no built-in deadlines to follow. Shell is one of several oil companies pushing the federal government to create a national greenhouse gas offset program. Carbon offsets allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental projects in order to balance out their own greenhouse gas emissions. CBC

The Lights of Growing Communities Attract Deer. Deer Attract Cougars. Research shows that as light pollution grows, it mimics deer’s preferred dusk and dawn grazing times. But there are still enough dark spots for predators to hide and hunt, according to both satellite data and GPS data from 117 cougars and 486 mule deer in the southwest. Salt Lake Tribune

The Head of California’s Clean Air Agency Could Lead EPA under President-Elect Joe Biden. Mary Nichols has kept California focused on efforts to control greenhouse gases. But at the Air Resources Board, disquieting news surfaced about allegations of persistent slighting of Black employee in the agency, which is opening a discussion of the charges with all employees. Bloomberg News Sacramento Bee

Black Cowboys Reclaim Their History in the West Though historians estimate that as many as one-fourth of the cowboys in the late 1800s were Black, many of them have been erased from the history of the “Wild West.” But this history is remembered by men who gather at a ranch in South Phoenix owned by a retired Black trucker from Indiana. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: November 9, 2020

Gray Wolves To Be Removed From Endangered Species List. While federal wildlife officials hail the move as a success story, showing the wolves’ recovery, some contend that protections should remain in place until the wolf populations are more stable. Others remain hopeful that turning over control to state and tribal governments would better encourage the species’ recovery. The move will have most impact in states in the Mountain West where wolf numbers haven’t rebounded. Boise State Public Radio NPR

U.S., Mexico Sign Rio Grande Water Agreement to settle dispute over Mexico falling short of its treaty obligations to deliver the U.S. water from the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Mexico, which fell behind on its water deliveries for a second consecutive cycle, agreed to transfer to the U.S. ownership of water in two border reservoirs. The agreement will nearly deplete Mexico’s water storage in those reservoirs, potentially harming those who depend on the water, including farmers. If it does not rain, and the reservoirs are not replenished, the U.S. has agreed to provide “humanitarian support” in the form of supplemental water to Mexico. Circle Of Blue

Arizona’s Biggest Utility to Inject Aid Into Indigenous Communities losing or about to lose coal jobs. Arizona Public Service, which has committed itself to providing carbon-free electricity, proposes offering $144 million in aid to three coal-country and tribal communities. For decades, these communities produced the fuel that powered engines pushing Colorado River water uphill, with development and population growth transforming the areas around Phoenix and Tucson. The company will eventually close all its coal-fired plants. The Navajo Generating station closed last year; the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington is scheduled to close by 2031. Arizona Republic

Nevada Voters Seal Renewable Energy Goals in their State Constitution, approving a ballot question to constitutionally mandate that at least 50% of Nevada’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. While Nevada’s state legislature passed a bill mandating the same quota in 2019, the ballot question seals the goal in the constitution, preventing subsequent administrations from overturning the target. Vox The New York Times

Dakota Access Pipeline Fate Uncertain After Court Hearing with federal judges appearing to lean in favor of requiring additional environmental review before approval. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is expected to rule in the next four to five months.The judges focused on whether the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental review was adequate, or a closer look is required. A court ruling against the Army Corps of Engineers could make it easier for pipeline opponents — including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous communities — to halt the pipeline’s progress during an expanded review. Bloomberg

Dealing With Deadbeat Dams Is a Focus for utilities and other companies around the West. The Public Policy Information Center presents a Q & A with an expert at the Cetner of Watershed Sciences at the university of California Davis, looking at what will be done with the aging dams that represent most of the 100,000 dams in the US Army Corps of Engineers’ dam database. PPIC

Newsom to Appoint New Chair of Caliofrnia’s World-Leading Air Board. The California Air Resources Board is the state’s leading policy-making body on climate change and air pollution; its current head, Mary Nichols, is ending her term. The next chair must ensure the state meets its climate targets, including cutting air pollution in Los Angeles and ending sales of new internal-combustion cars. The chair must also win its legal case against federal efforts to end the state’s right to regulate vehicular greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental justice groups seek a chair who will focus on conventional air pollution, believing that policies to further cap-and-trade carbon reduction efforts allow companies to continue polluting. Politico

Department of Homeland Security to Spend Millions on Five Miles of Border Wall in Arizona. The DHS is working to build a wall in Guadalupe Canyon, home to the Chiricahua Apache, in an effort to fulfil President Trump’s campaign promises. Experts contend that the construction will likely have little impact on undocumented immigration into the U.S. The construction could damage a key habitat corridor between northern Mexico and Southwestern U.S. that is frequented by ocelots, black bears and jaguars. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: November 2, 2020

The Weed Invasion of Desert Landscapes Means They Now Burn as never before. The loss of a million Joshua trees in California’s Eastern Mojave Desert this summer foreshadows fire-driven replacement of landcover throughout the West. The invasive, flammable bromes are now the plants that are invading coastal closed-canopy forests. A close-up look at why the how the face of the land is changing, inviting the fires of the future. The Nation

Arizona Regulators Want to Eliminate Carbon-Based Electricity by 2050. The new regulations require that by 2035, half of electric utilities’ power should come renewable energy like solar and wind in 2035. Fifteen years later, utilities must fulfill customer demand either by offering nuclear-power energy, renewables, or energy-efficiency measures such as subsidizing low-watt lightbulbs or attic insulation for customers. The impact on customer bills remains unclear. Arizona Republic

A Bankruptcy Court Rules Exide May Leave California Taxpayers With the Cleanup Bill for its shuttered battery recycling plant near Vernon. The soil around the abandoned plant is riddled with lead, a powerful neurotoxin. Community groups have opposed the lack of regulation and contamination from the company for years. The bankruptcy filing, approved by a judge, means Exide has no responsibility for eliminating the waste that threatens the health of the surrounding communities and their largely Latinx, working-class population. Los Angeles Times

Who Determines the Fate of 3.1 Million Acre-Feet of Colorado River Water? California’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Imperial Irrigation District in Imperial County has ownership rights, blocking a challenge by a large local farming operation that had sought to pre-empt the irrigation district’s right to distribute and market the water. But during years of litigation, the farmer, Michael Abatti, succeeded in getting the irrigation district to abandon its plan for how cuts to water allocations would be made in drought years. The Desert Sun

Legume-Based Pulse Crops See a New Demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. This resurgence in demand for pulse crops; such as lentils, dry peas, chickpeas, and beans coincides with a revival of regenerative agriculture as well as increased interests in healthy plant-based diets. Pulse crops are central to regenerative agriculture, as they work to return lost nutrients, like nitrogen, to the soil. Continued increases in stewarding and consumption of pulse crops could have highly beneficial effects on public health. KTVQ/Montana Ag Nework

Articles Worth Reading: October 27, 2020

Snow Hits Colorado’s Cameron Peak, East Troublesome Fires Sunday, bringing critical relief. The Colorado wildfires — some of the largest in the state’s history — have forced evacuations and turned deadly in some areas. As of Sunday, the Cameron Peak fire has burned over 200,000 acres, with the East Troublesome fire following close behind, burning about 192,000 acres. The snow is expected to dampen the fires, giving firefighters a critical chance to bring the blazes under control. Denver Post Washington Post

Trump Reverses His Decision to Reject Wildfire Relief for California, approving a package of wildfire disaster relief hours after the administration said the state should not receive the aid. The aid will be used for remediation for six wildfires that have burned nearly 2 million acres. It will also add to the 68 fire-related aid packages for California that Trump has approved. His change of heart came after Gov. Gavin Newsom and Rep. Kevin McCarthy urged the president to provide the aid. The New York Times

Watchdogs Push New Mexico to Limit Use of U.S. Nuclear Waste Dump, as the federal government looks to extend and expand operations at the country’s only underground nuclear waste repository. The Energy Department’s application for renewing its permit for 10 years proposes abandoning the original 2024 date, when it had agreed to to close and decommission the 20-year-old dump, where tons of waste has been stored in salt caverns. Opponents say the state has failed to hold the Department of Energy accountable for cleaning up the contamination and dealing with radioactive waste. Associated Press

Trump Administration Adds 1,275 Miles to the National Trail System. The administration announced the creation of 30 new national recreational trails in 25 states, including new trails in California, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona. Organizations like the American Hiking Society and PeopleForBikes praised the Department of the Interior for the expansion. The trail designations advance the Trump administration’s goal of increasing public access to outdoor recreation, according to a Department of the Interior press release. National Park Service

Public Lands Decisions Across West Questioned after ruling on status of acting federal agency chief William Perry Pendley. A federal judge determined Pendley had served unlawfully for 14 months as the head of the Bureau of Land Management. Sixty environmental organizations in Colorado and across the West argue that Pendley’s decisions, which include a plan to allow drilling on public lands across six counties in Colorado, should not stand. The state of Montana has called for the courts to throw out Pendley’s decisions. Denver Post

Alaska Seeks to Block Federal Approval of an Emergency Hunt for A Native Village, despite a dire food shortage. The lawsuit against the Federal Subsistence Board came after it approved an emergency out-of-season hunt for the Organized Village of Kake at the start of the pandemic. If the state prevails, rural communities and federally recognized tribes will be prohibited from requesting emergency hunts. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: October 20, 2020

Revitalizing Indigenous Stewardship with Cultural Burning on the central California coast, the Amah Matsun Land Trust seeks to effectively manage fire-prone lands using the stewardship of Indigenous groups. In the Quiroste Valley, the Native Stewardship Corps (NSC) are working in uplands above the meadow and riparian valley that contain dense stands of Douglas fir and coyote brush with little to no understory. These stands have encroached upon the open coastal prairie grassland. Due to the dense canopy cover, little sunlight reaches the forest floor, thus allowing little to no presence of grasses and forbs. This reduces biodiversity, and threatens the coastal prairie, which was once much more widespread. Cultural burning could help restore the grasslands. The land trust plans a Zoom conference to discuss traditional Native American land management. Amahmutsun Land Trust

Environmental Activists and Hoover Dam Operators Are Joining Forces, as hydro-electric industry groups and environmental activists have publicly committed to collaborate to minimize the environmental harm of existing hydro-electric dams. This union of warring factions from industry and the environmental movement is an instance in a fledgling but growing trend of large-scale industries, joining non-profit organizations and institutions to explicitly address the best ways to counter the threat of runaway climate collapse. The New York Times

Washington State Firm to Abandon Coal, Which May Keep Coal Pollution Going in Montana. Puget Sound Energy’s plan to sell for $1 its stake in Montana’s Colstrip Generating Station needs approval by agencies in both states. If it gets them, it can meet Washington State rules to abandon coal-burning resources by 2025. Montana’s NorthWestern Energy, which wants to keep one unit of the plant going until 2042, would have more say in its future. E&E News

A Push for Statehood For the Navajo Nation comes as congressional Democrats raising the possibility of making the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico into states, voices from the Southwest are reviving the idea of a state, perhaps called Dinétah, to give the region a more powerful voice in national affairs, and increase federal payments. Indian Country Today

Reaching Beyond El Niño Observations, Scientists Examine Distant Ocean Conditions as a key think to predict Western droughts, particularly those affecting the Colorado River, two years in advance. Researchers looked at the most extreme drought years in the past 120 years and found they almost always followed a distinct pattern of unusual warm spells in the tropical reaches of the Atlantic Ocean. up to four years in advance, followed by warming in the northern Pacific two year later. Science

Pursuing Endangered Salmon, California Sea Lions Range Deeper into the Columbia River. NOAA fisheries and researchers at the University of Washington published a study in the Journal of Applied Ecology detailing increased predation of salmon by sea lions. The Columbia River is home to the Chinook Salmon Run, an extremely important ecological niche for the movement of nitrogen throughout the watersheds of the West coast. California sea lions, facing hunger in their more coastal native habitats, have in recent years begun traveling farther and farther upstream to hunt salmon. These hunting migrations are most prevalent before they depart for southern California breeding grounds. Devdiscourse

As Consensus Favoring Prescribed Burns Increases, Rates of Controlled Fires Still Fall in Washington State. Like many states in the West facing challenging fire seasons, Washington has been slow to financially invest in the requirements for effective controlled burning. Crosscut

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

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