Four years after California’s largest dam removal project, Steelhead trout numbers are growing, a model for other projects nationwide

by Paul Roger Read full Mercury News article here

The destruction of the [10-story] San Clemente Dam [along the Carmel River near Monterey], which had blocked the river since 1921, remains the largest dam removal project in California history. It’s still early, but one of the main goals of the project seems to be on track: The river is becoming wilder, and struggling fish populations are rebounding.

…. The 106 foot-tall dam had been located 18 miles up river from Monterey Bay. In 2016, the first year after it was removed, researchers found that no steelhead trout, an iconic type of rainbow trout listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, swam past its former site to a tagging location seven miles upriver. By 2017, seven steelhead had made the trip. Last year, the count was 29. So far this year, 123 steelhead have traveled upriver.

… The broader lesson, scientists say, is one of hope. Despite declines in other species, some wildlife species — from the Great Plains bison to Pacific gray whales to bald eagles — have rebounded significantly, despite plummeting close to extinction, after humans recognized what was killing them and corrected it. For bison and whales, it was hunting. For bald eagles, it was the now-banned chemical DDT. For steelhead trout, dams built across the West over the past century blocked their ability to swim to the ocean and return upriver to spawn, crashing their populations….

… Crews recycled the dam’s steel. They broke the concrete pieces ranging in size from softballs to boulders. They buried the debris in the sediment pile and covered it with willows, sycamores and other native plants. They built rocky step-pools, each one foot higher than the previous one so the fish could migrate upriver more easily. ,,

Dangerous decline of nature and increase in species extinctions unprecedented in human history- New UN report

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” The five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.

Read Policymakers Summary here (Pdf), press release here and ScienceDaily coverage here.

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, per a new report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)… More than 1,000,000 species- or ~25% of all species- are threatened with extinction. Transformative changes are needed to restore and protect nature for our well-being.

Findings include:

  • Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
  • More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production…

….Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.

Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point…”

For ease of reference, a number of issues highlighted in the Report are summarized in the ‘Further Information’ section that follows below, specifically on:

…Societal goals – including those for food, water, energy, health and the achievement of human well-being for all, mitigating and adapting to climate change and conserving and sustainably using nature – can be achieved in sustainable pathways through the rapid and improved deployment of existing policy instruments and new initiatives that more effectively enlist individual and collective action for transformative change. Since current structures often inhibit sustainable development and actually represent the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss, such fundamental, structural change is called for. By its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good. If obstacles are overcome, commitment to mutually supportive international goals and targets, supporting actions by indigenous peoples and local communities at the local level, new frameworks for private sector investment and innovation, inclusive and adaptive governance approaches and arrangements, multi-sectoral planning and strategic policy mixes can help to transform the public and private sectors to achieve sustainability at the local, national and global levels…

Behavior Change For Nature: A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners.

Expanding the traditional environmental toolkit of regulations, taxes, and awareness campaigns to include behavioral insights
such as our cognitive biases, emotions, social networks, and decision-making environments that can enhance practitioners’ ability to achieve lasting change, according to a recent Rare report, which…offers 15 behavioral strategies and numerous case studies aiming to address today’s most pressing environmental challenges.

….The authors discuss the merits and shortcomings of three key approaches: legislation and regulation; market forces and material incentives; and awareness and education. They also highlight three fundamental insights from behavioral science: the need to focus on non-conscious as well as conscious drivers of behavior; the need to focus on the setting of our behaviors as well as internal motives and drivers; and the need to focus on behaviors rather than solely beliefs, attitudes or intentions….

Freshwater coastal erosion impacts global carbon stores; wetlands have high carbon storage rates but can lose carbon much faster than accumulate it

Shoreline erosion can transform freshwater wetlands from carbon-storage pools to carbon sources

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

….Wave action and high water levels sweep away soils and plants at a rate much higher than nature can replace them. An accurate measurement of this carbon budget imbalance may help better prioritize coastal management efforts and improve global carbon-cycle mode.

Freshwater wetlands account for as much as 95 percent of all wetlands — freshwater and marine — and have one of the highest carbon-storage rates of any environment, the researchers said (see here reporting that wetlands just in continental US hold ~12 billion tons of C).

The study found a large mismatch between how long it takes the carbon to accumulate versus how long it takes to erode, Braun said. “Ten percent of what took 500 years to accumulate disappeared in a six-month period. This wetland — or carbon reservoir, if you are looking at it from a carbon-budget perspective — took a permanent ding. The rate at which wetlands may rebuild can never catch up to the rate at which they were eroded.”

Trees crucial to future of cities– the right amount of tree cover can lower summer daytime temperatures by as much as 10 F

-To get the maximum benefit of this cooling service, the study found that tree canopy cover must exceed 40 percent.

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

Carly D. Ziter, Eric J. Pedersen, Christopher J. Kucharik, Monica G. Turner. Scale-dependent interactions between tree canopy cover and impervious surfaces reduce daytime urban heat during summerProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; 201817561 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1817561116

….Impervious surfaces — like roads, sidewalks and buildings — absorb heat from the sun during the day and slowly release that heat at night. Trees, on the other hand, not only shade those surfaces from the sun’s rays, they also transpire, or release water into the air through their leaves, a process that cools things down.

To get the maximum benefit of this cooling service, the study found that tree canopy cover must exceed 40 percent. In other words, an aerial picture of a single city block would need to be nearly half-way covered by a leafy green network of branches and leaves….

For a healthier planet, eat these 50 foods; From mushrooms, beans and pulses, to nuts, tubers, seaweed, algae, cactuses, and greens, our food choices can protect our future (WWF, Knorr)

Read NPR story here; see WWF Knorr Report here (pdf)

….According to the report, 75 percent of the food we consume comes from just 12 plant sources and five animal sources. And just three crops — wheat, corn and rice — make up nearly 60 percent of the plant-based calories in most diets.

The lack of variety in agriculture is both bad for nature and a threat to food security, the report says. It argues that it’s essential we change our eating habits to protect the planet and ensure we are able to feed our growing global population….

….Maria Haga, the head of Crop Trust, an organization focused on preserving crop diversity, says the new campaign is on target. “We probably have globally like 30,000 plants that we could eat,” she says. “We eat roughly 150 of those.” And to have just a handful of crops be so dominant is “really a challenge for the whole food system.”

Haga says dependence on just a few crops is also a threat to food security…. If we’re to feed everyone with a changing climate, says Haga, we’ll need diverse crops that can adapt to extreme weather conditions. The planet has lost thousands of varieties of foods in the last hundred years, says Haga. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever….

….people are beginning to wake up to the problem and to the wide variety of alternative foods, many of which he grew up eating. One example is the ancient grain fonio, which resembles couscous. “It’s a grain that’s great for the planet,” says Thiam. “And it’s gluten free; it’s drought resistant; it grows in two months; it scores low on the glycemic index, so it’s great for your health too.”… Besides grains like fonio, they include various mushrooms, beans and pulses, nuts, tubers, algae and cactuses…

Climate Change: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

MAGC/ One Tam /GGNPC Presentation March 14, 2019

Many thanks to the Marin Art and Garden Club, One Tam and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy for inviting me to present. My presentation includes some of the latest science about climate change (as well as land use change and pollution impacts on ecosystems) globally and regionally; an overview of the United Nations efforts to address climate change including the most recent UNFCCC COP 24 meeting outcomes (which I was honored to attend representing Point Blue); and, what we can do- and are doing- to secure a vibrant future for us all. You can view a pdf of my presentation here.

As sea level rises, wetlands crank up their carbon storage

Read ScienceDaily coverage here

  1. Rogers et al. Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative sea-level riseNature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-0951-7

Some wetlands perform better under pressure. A new study revealed that when faced with sea-level rise, coastal wetlands respond by burying even more carbon in their soils. Coastal wetlands, which include marshes, mangroves and seagrasses, already store carbon more efficiently than any other natural ecosystem, including forests….

For wetlands that had faced rising seas, carbon concentrations doubled or nearly quadrupled in just the top 20 centimeters of soil. When the scientists looked deeper, at 50 to 100 centimeters beneath the surface, the difference hit five to nine times higher.

The extra boost comes because the carbon added to wetland soils by plant growth and sediment is buried faster as wetlands become wetter. Trapped underwater with little to no oxygen, the organic detritus does not decompose and release carbon dioxide as quickly. And the higher the waters rise, the more underwater storage space exists for the carbon to get buried.

….The trick, of course, is to ensure wetlands do not drown and disappear if waters rise too quickly. “Preservation of coastal wetlands is critical if they are to play a role in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change,” Rogers said. For coastal wetlands to survive, they need space to migrate inland….

Climate change + population growth set stage for water shortages including in CA, the Southwest; reductions in ag water use will be key to limiting future shortages

Read ScienceDaily article here

Even efforts to use water more efficiently in municipal and industrial sectors won’t be enough to stave off shortages, say the authors of the new study. The results suggest that reductions in agricultural water use will probably play the biggest role in limiting future water shortages.

The new study is part of a larger 10-year U.S. Forest Service assessment of renewable resources including timber, rangeland forage, wildlife and water. …The new study finds climate change and population growth are likely to present serious challenges in some regions of the U.S., notably the central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central Rocky Mountain States, and California, and also some areas in the South and the Midwest.

The heart of the new analysis is a comparison of future water supply versus estimated water demand in different water-using sectors, like industry and agriculture….

  1. Thomas C. Brown, Vinod Mahat, Jorge A. Ramirez. Adaptation to Future Water Shortages in the United States Caused by Population Growth and Climate ChangeEarth’s Future, 2019; DOI: 10.1029/2018EF001091

Natural climate solutions (through forests, soil and other natural carbon sinks) are not enough: emissions reductions from energy and industry sectors must be accelerated at the same time

Strategies for incorporating Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) with energy and industrial mitigation in the climate portfolio should not be “either/or” but “yes, and.”

Read Science Daily summary here and SCIENCE article here

To stabilize the Earth’s climate for people and ecosystems, it is imperative to ramp up natural climate solutions and, at the same time, accelerate mitigation efforts across the energy and industrial sectors, experts argue in a new article.

Among their findings, the researchers warn that a ten-year delay in emissions reductions from energy and industry could this century result in emissions that negate the net potential emissions reductions benefit of natural climate solutions.

  1. Christa M. Anderson, Ruth S. Defries, Robert Litterman, Pamela A. Matson, Daniel C. Nepstad, Stephen Pacala, William H. Schlesinger, M. Rebecca Shaw, Pete Smith, Christopher Weber, Christopher B. Field. Natural climate solutions are not enoughScience, 2019; 363 (6430): 933-934 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw2741